The house in Markarth, Vlindrel Hall, had quickly become her favourite and that was despite, rather than because of, the gruff Housecarl that the Jarl had seen fit to bestow on her when making her Thane. Arianna really didn't understand the fixation in Skyrim for giving away people. If she had wanted a servant, which she didn't, she would have hired her own.
While there were some advantages to having someone living in her home; the constant supply of fresh food, the fires and lamps always lit, she was, by nature, a solitary woman and her hermitic tendencies had flourished under the heavy mantle of Dovahkiin so while recognising these advantages, the presence of others in her homes irked her. Lydia's constant fussing in Whiterun, Iona's frankly bizarre attitude in Riften and now this taciturn beast of a man who rarely spoke or smiled. He paced, patrolling the house like a caged pit wolf, his steel boots ringing on the flagstone floors. To the front door and back, across the main living area into the alchemy and enchanting rooms, back into the living area. Sit for a while and repeat.
It was driving Arianna mad as she sat, curled in one of the wide, comfortable chairs beside the fire, a stack of books and a bottle of spiced wine at her elbow, The Annals of the Dragonguard balanced open on one thigh.
"Argis!" she snapped as the man passed behind her chair for what seemed like the hundredth time that evening.
"Yes, my Thane?"
His voice, when he did speak, was pleasing though. Deep and slightly rough but considered at the same time. If Arianna were in the mood to listen to a man talk, his would be the exact voice she would want to listen to.
"Will you please stop pacing?" She measured the words slowly for emphasis and looked up at him as he came to stand beside her chair.
A hint of puzzled flickered across his face. It was a pleasing enough face, she supposed. He was handsome in a way though she couldn't quite decide whether that was because of, or despite, the vivid scars that raked from his forehead, down his cheek to finish on the bow of his top lip. Whatever had given him the scars had also taken his left eye leaving milky blindness.
"Argis, I am trying to concentrate. I am finding that difficult with you stamping around."
"Stamping, my Thane?" The eyebrow above his piercing blue eye rose fractionally.
"Can you not just sit down and read a book or something?"
"If my presence is disturbing you, I will go to my room." He bowed very slightly at the waist. "Good night, my Thane."
Arianna heard his footsteps retreat and then blessed silence apart from the crackling fire. She heaved a sigh of relief and turned her attention back to the heavy book.
It was late when she finally decided to turn in, the fire had reduced to embers and a distinct chill had stolen through the ancient stonework of the house. She stood up and stretched, her muscles and bones protesting at being motionless for so long, and her feet were suddenly cold on the stone floor.
She could hear Argis snoring lightly in the room opposite her bedroom as she closed the heavy iron doors that separated the private quarters from the rest of the house and, suddenly curious, she tiptoed to the doorway of his room and peeked inside.
Argis was stretched out flat on his back and still in his armour on the narrow stone bed. Stone bed? By the Divines, how did anyone sleep on a stone bed? But then, how on earth could anyone sleep in leather and iron? She stole closer and looked down into his face which was relaxed and wiped clear of the usual tension that hovered about his eyes. He was a good-looking man, she decided, both despite and because of the scars. He shifted restlessly and Arianna, having no desire to be caught standing over him, fled for her own room and her own bed, which was wide and comfortable and definitely not made of stone.
The following morning when Arianna woke up, she could hear that Argis was already pacing. She inwardly groaned and then an idea hit her. She had picked up a bounty note from the waspish barkeep at the Silverblood Inn, maybe if she asked Argis, he might want to come along and expend some excess energy. Maybe there would then be less pacing.
She rolled out of bed, opened her wardrobe and rifled through her clothing. She selected a light dress, tugged it over her naked body adjusting her breasts in the flimsy bodice and went to find the surly man.
"Argis!" she called, and jumped when his voice came from behind her.
She spun around as he emerged from his room, a slight flush staining his features. She frowned briefly and then quickly explained about the bounty. "So, would you like to join me in routing a few rebels?" she finished and had to smile at the grin that lit up his face.
"I am your sword and your shield. I will protect you with my life," he proclaimed and it was the first time she had ever heard eagerness in his voice.
"Be ready to go in about an hour," she said, walking over to the table and helping herself to a wedge of cheese, a couple of apples and a small piece of bread.
Argis came to stand beside her, looking down at her plate with disapproval on his face. "If we are going to fight, you should eat something more substantial than that," he chided, waving a dismissive hand at her breakfast.
"Not first thing," she answered shortly, trying not to let the irritation that had flared within her show. "Pack some food to take with us. We'll likely be gone all day and may not make it back tonight."
"Yes, my Thane."
She blew her cheeks out in annoyance. "I do have a name, you know."
He stared at her blankly. " I do not know it."
"No. I don't suppose you do." She looked at him for a long moment. "I'm Arianna. My friends call me Ari, not that I have many." She hadn't meant to say the last bit aloud but Argis snorted in what she realised was amusement.
"That makes two of us then." He turned to go and prepare their gear. "Funny thing," he murmured. "I dreamt you were in my room last night, just standing beside my bed."
Arianna's face flooded with colour as he looked back over his shoulder at her and eyed her for a moment before heading back to his room.
They walked for most of the morning in a silence that was surprisingly companionable. Arianna wasn't a great talker and neither was Argis but it was still pleasant to have someone with her for a change especially someone who didn't feel the need to fill the silence.
As they neared the cave that she was going to paid for clearing out, she grabbed his arm and motioned him down into the long grass.
"How's this going to work then?" His mouth was suddenly very close to her ear, his breath tickling at her hair as they both surveyed the rocky outcrop and the numerous Forsworn that patrolled. "Nice armour," he murmured as one particularly well-endowed female came into view and she heard a thread of laughter in the two words.
"Armour or decoration?" she whispered. She grinned at him and saw surprise flicker across his face. She gestured at the bow on her back. "Let's see if we can find a good spot without being seen. I'll take out as many as I can with my bow; you get to wale on the rest. Don't let them get too close to me."
She was beginning to question the wisdom of bringing him along now that the fight was imminent. Alone she could fade into shadows and disappear until her enemies gave up searching for her and she could pepper them with arrows again. Alone she could use Dov magic without the all too common reaction of fear and awe that made her feel more like a freak than a hero.
"Not a swords-woman then," Argis breathed.
"No," she answered, shortly.
"I meant nothing by it. I need to know if you can't go hand-to hand," his voice was a reasonable growl. "How many do you think there are?"
Arianna turned her head, her nose almost brushing his, their faces were so close. "I have way of finding out," she whispered, not knowing why she was about to flaunt her power in front of this man. His eyebrow rose enquiringly.
She took a deep breath and centred herself, drawing on the immense power that coursed dormant through her body until she called it.
"Laas Yah Nir."
The words were expelled on her exhaled breath and she felt Argis stiffen beside her as the terrain around them came alive with red, glowing shapes. She held up two fingers and pointed to their left, three including the heavy-chested female were in front of them and one off to the right.
"Six in total," he whispered.
"That's just outside. The chances are that any sounds of fighting will bring more from inside the cave." She delved into an outside pocket on her pack and drew out a heavy silver necklace studded with a single flawless sapphire. "Change of plan. Put this on," she instructed.
"What is it?"
"Lightening ward. I made it myself."
"Lightening?" he asked taking the necklace from her fingers and fastening it around his neck.
"Yes. Stay down."
Arianna rose to her feet, still concealed by the rock they hid behind.
"Strun Bah Qo!"
The shout was deafening this time. Arianna dropped back into the grass but not before she saw several of the Forsworn searching for the source of the sound.
Dark grey clouds boiled across what had been a clear blue sky and heavy rain started to pound down as lightning raked across the ground and found the sentries guarding the cave. The screams could barely be heard over the violent, killing storm. A fork of blue-white light struck the rock in front of them, showering them both with sharp fragments of stone.
Arianna pushed Argis sideways into the grass and covered as much of his body as she could with her own, burying her face in his neck as the lightning hissed into the wet grass beside their bodies.
Argis lay perfectly still beneath her seemingly stunned by what was happening but she could hear his ragged breathing against her ear as the storm raged around them.
The screams grew less and less until the only sounds were the rain hammering down on them and the wind howling. And then, as abruptly as it had started, the rain ceased and the clouds rolled away.
Argis's hand grabbed a sodden hank of her hair and her head was jerked from the warmth of his neck so he could lift his head and look into her face.
"What are you?" he whispered, fixing her with a direct, challenging stare.
Her mouth tightened. She didn't want to answer but somehow she felt she owed him the truth. "Dragonborn."
He frowned. "But you're just a little girl."
Arianna bristled. "I am not 'just a little girl', she spat, angrily and suddenly became aware of her body pressed to the length of his.
Argis was silent for a long moment. He seemed unable to stop his eye travelling down her very obviously female form encased in skin-tight leather armour. "No," he agreed at last. "I suppose you're not."
Arianna didn't understand what was suddenly bubbling beneath the surface and, for a moment, felt like the child she had denied being. She rolled off him into the wet grass and sat up.
"Laas Yah Nir."
This time, the whisper revealed no flickering shapes outside the cave. She looked down at Argis who still lay in the grass, an unfathomable expression on his face.
"Well, come on. We've got a cave to clear, unless you would rather stay here."
He smiled, the sweetest smile she had ever seen. "And what do you need me for exactly?" he teased as he hauled himself to his feet.
The only response she could think of was to punch his arm and smile foolishly when he laughed.
Arianna watched as Argis, utilising the dead body at his feet, wiped his sword on the fur armour, straightened and sheathed his weapon. The cave was silent except for the sound of trickling water dripping over the rocks.
"That went well," Argis said with a tight grin. She could see the adrenalin still coursing through his body, igniting his good eye with a fierce light.
"It did," she agreed. "If you're going to come out and play with me though, you are going to need better armour and weapons."
"I'll be fine," he grunted, shortly.
"Argis-" She stared at him not knowing how to put into words how badly she didn't want him to be hurt. He had proved himself easy company, well able to take care of himself and she found that an affection for him had taken root inside her somewhere over the course of the day.
He glanced at her briefly and seemed to read something in her face. "Ah, maybe you're right," he said.
Arianna's face broke into a huge, genuine smile and she saw his eyes widen.
"Gods woman. You should smile like that more often," he blurted and then swiftly ducked down to search the body at his feet and hide his obvious embarrassment.
Arianna stared at the back of his head, touched and pleased at his reaction. It was on a whim that she had brought him with her and, to her surprise, she couldn't now imagine him not being with her.